- SI.com's Ryan Asselta caught up with Paul Casey, the defending champion at this week's Valspar Championship, for a candid interview on a number of topics.
One thing you hear consistently from players on the PGA Tour is just how hard it is to win. For every Tiger Woods or Rory Mcilroy, who have the ability to pile up victories, there are dozens of other golfers capable but unable to seal the deal. Englishman Paul Casey’s golfing resume speaks for itself—he’s a winner on both the PGA and European Tours, a member of four Ryder Cup teams and one of the best players never to win a major. But a winless drought from 2014-2018 led to self-doubt, soul searching and ultimately an attitude over-haul.
The work Casey put in over that four year stretch eventually came to fruition at last years Valspar Championship, where he held off a hard-charging Tiger Woods to once again become a winner on the PGA Tour at age 40.
SI.com’s Ryan Asselta recently caught up with Casey as he heads back to the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook to defend his Valspar title.
Ryan Asselta: When you think back to last year's Valspar, you began the final round five shots back of the leaders. Did you go to Innisbrook that morning thinking you actually had a chance to win the tournament?
Paul Casey: I'm not sure it was that much in the forefront of my mind. I think my mindset was to just go tear it up and shoot lights out because I felt like I had kind of blown the tournament the day before. So, there was just no reason to hold back on Sunday. Just go for it. You always think you’ve got a chance. You know, kind of like Tiger wearing his red. He might be 10 shots back, but he's wearing his red and thinks he can win. A lot of things needed to happen for me to win, and luckily they did
RA: You posted a final round 65, and then had to wait as everyone, including Tiger Woods, made a run at that number. What was that like sitting, waiting, listening to the Tiger roars, while you were the leader in the clubhouse?
PC: Yeah, by the time I got back to the clubhouse, I had maybe 45 minutes of golf to watch. Tiger hit a 6-iron into 17 and flew it past the flag to 45 feet. I’m thinking, “Wow, I dodged a bullet there”. And then he rolls in a ridiculous putt. Such a Tiger thing to do! It’s the worst thing, having it out of your control. We’re all kind of control freaks as athletes. The only thing I can equate to it is at the Ryder Cup, watching your teammates play when it’s totally out of your hands. You’d rather be in the heat of the battle, face-to-face, going at it. It was like being underwater for five minutes. Just awful.
RA: That victory ended a winless drought of 132 PGA Tour starts. When the win and everything that came with it set in, how emotional was it for you?
PC: It was nine years in between the Valspar and my win in Houston. Having been that length of time, and having struggled with my golf game, it was really satisfying. I’m now in a place that I’m more mature and there are other things in my life, but it was satisfying to wake up the next day and think “Yeah, I won again. This is cool”.
There were a lot of satisfying things last year with the win and making the Ryder Cup team. I don't know, maybe in the past I wasn't able to process them as well, but this win just meant so much more.
RA: It’s been 18 years since you teed it up in your first PGA tour event as a pro. You have 19 worldwide victories. How would you categorize your career when you sit back and think about it? Has it exceeded expectations or do you deep down think maybe you should have won more than you have?
PC: That’s a tricky one. I haven't played the majority of my career in the U.S. The events I did play were always against guys like Tiger and Phil in the early days. It was slim pickings, with Tiger winning most of them. It was awesome to play against, but it made it very sparse in terms of chances you have to win. I haven't won a major, which, obviously, I would like to have won by now. I still think there’s an opportunity for me to do so.
I had a significant number of wins in Europe…there should be more, but there were other factors. I've had injuries and I got divorced. I certainly went through a dip in form and I lost a lot of confidence on the golf course. So to then come back out the other side, and to be competitive again, and successful, that’s really very satisfying.
Maybe there should be more wins on there, but you know, deep down, I'm happy with a lot of the stuff I've achieved and I've got a great life, not just on the course but off the course. I’ve got my family and two kids and an amazing wife. So, you know, I've won it to this point. I'm pretty damn happy.
RA: You reached as high as No. 3 in the world at one point early in your career. You talked about your struggles, the divorce. You’re now remarried, and have two kids. How much have you changed as a golfer and as a person over the last 18 years?
PC: As a golfer, physically I don’t move the clubs the way I used to. I've got injuries and it takes a lot longer for me to loosen up. If it's cold, I'm useless. I've had to sort of manage to be more efficient. I'm a much happier golfer. I'm more accepting of things. I was always pretty fiery, so I throw less clubs now (laughter)
I think that comes from being in a good place off the golf course. I genuinely wasn't happy in the early days, and that reflected in everything. It affected friendships and how I interacted with people and it wasn't good, plain and simple. That’s totally changed. I've got some great people around me. My wife's amazing. Johnny, my caddie is awesome.
I couldn't have continued on the path I was on, that's for sure. If I wasn't happy, no way I could still be winning. I believe that I wouldn't be a person you’d want to be around. I was grumpy. I really was angry. I’m not proud of it, but it's done. Now I’m in a good place. I’m enjoying my golf and am highly motivated. I’m right there because all of the ingredients are now there.
RA: You mentioned the majors. At 41 years old. Can you win a major title?
PC: Yes. I've got to be selective with where it's going to happen. I firmly believe I can win at Augusta. No question, I can win the Masters. The Open Championship? That may be too cold. I might struggle a little bit, but if I get good weather and the right golf course...If it’s at St. Andrews, yeah, hands down, I could win that. I’ve struggled with the U.S. Open setups. I’m going to need some stuff to align. I’ll be frank. If Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson plays the best golf that they possibly can play, I’d need something super human to beat them, plain and simply.
RA: You win last year at the Valspar at age 40. This season you finish second at Pebble after leading for most of the tournament. How has the game evolved or changed that allows players like you at 41 or Phil Mickelson at 48 to continually compete and still win on Tour? Is it training, equipment, coaching?
PC: I think it's everything. This is such a mental game. The older you get, the more you learn, the more you understand. You're actually better equipped.
I think physically and technically and from an equipment point of view, you look at Phil—he’s very vocal about what he’s working on. He’s working on speed. He's embracing technology. He’s trying to hit the golf ball as hard as he possibly can and then he’s just going to go find it and hit it again. I mean, my goodness, some of the tee shots he hit at Pebble were all over the place. A hundred yards left of the fairway and he finds it, hits it again and doesn’t care.
You’ve got to applaud him. He’s taking every little area and just trying to maximize his chances and his ability of being successful. I think technology and the knowledge we have now allows us to do that. As long as you can stay healthy and stay injury free, there's no reason why Phil can't continue to play as good or better than the young guys, myself included.
RA: This past fall, you returned to the European Ryder Cup team for first time in 10 years, helping the Euros win. Outside of simply playing better than the Americans, what's the one reason you could pinpoint as to why the Europeans have won nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups?
PC: We have an understanding, that we never discuss what we do, what we work on, or our little secrets. The one time I was on a losing European team, at Valhalla, we sat in the team room on Sunday night, drank a lot of alcohol, we discussed the errors that we made and we also agreed that we'd never talk about it outside of those doors. Who was to blame? What would we do differently.. We take those little secrets and we keep them close really because they are so important.
We played great golf in Paris, but there are little things we like to think that we do really, really well and they might be a little advantage. If it's an advantage then we need to keep hold of it because the Americans on paper are also good. We have massive respect for that team. So sorry, you can ask all the questions that you want but we're not going to give up our secrets (laughter).
RA:When you see what went on with the Americans, the reported fracturing in the locker room with a few of the guys… Do you sit back and kind of just shake your head a little bit at how they're handling things?
PC: The Americans take it very seriously. So we don't look at it and joke about it, cause they're incredibly serious about wanting to win. My coach Peter Kostis once asked me “Do you know the definition of cocky?” I said I didn’t. His reply was, “It's that nice warm, fuzzy feeling you get just before you screw up!” (Laughter). We can't look at it and get complacent or cocky or laugh or joke on it. It's too dangerous. We're very respectful of how dangerous the Americans are.